Story 3: Vocal Strain

People familiar with the history of the AT know that F.M. Alexander was plagued by vocal issues which began to interfere with his professional Shakespeare recitation. Focusing on the voice itself did not help him resolve the problem. So when my student Eve described her hoarseness and vocal strain, I wondered if her problems were related to poor use.

She was referred to me for Alexander lessons by her speech therapist, who must have observed her postural habits and concluded that AT might be helpful to her. Eve was in her late thirties, the mother of three children and a very active woman. As I listened to her history I noted the breathy sound of her voice and her hand at her throat as she described the nature of her vocal problems. She spoke about trying to sort out the connection between her vocal issues and food, but she had not considered the possible value of addressing her general use, i.e. learning to maintain total balance and coordination in her fast paced daily life.

In her first lesson we started the exploration of her habits with breath work . We defined vocal production and its relationship to her breathing patterns. Eve was completely unaware that she was a “breath holder”. It was immediately obvious to both of us that as she quieted her whole self, her throat symptoms lessened. It is challenging to convince a new student that the subtle, often indirect changes of an Alexander lesson are related to the symptom changes, even if this has just occurred. "HOW CAN IT BE THIS SIMPLE!" is what I heard her say. Of course it is never that simple. However, once the connection between habitual excess tension and discomfort is made, the AT process can be learned and applied.

We decided weekly lessons would validate and reinforce her first impressions.  After three months we had identified many of  Eve’s daily habits. Her knees locked in standing, she held her breath intermittently much of the time, and she reported tightness in her throat when she exercised. It seemed she was unconsciously interfering with her vocal mechanism much of her waking hours. She made significant progress with homework because she was willing to work on her own with the breath procedures we were learning together: whispered ah’s, silent la la la's, sustained sounding ... all had become a part of her daily routine, a critical aspect of the learning process.

We even examined her kitchen habits when she reported that her posture was “horrible” when preparing dinner for her family. We explored the way she did her exercise in the morning, noticing breath holding in particular, along with an overarched back and poor integration of her legs with her torso. It seemed that efficiency of use was required almost everywhere in her life.

Eve and I still see one another monthly. The vocal symptoms are much diminished, and when they occur she can use the Alexander Technique effectively to manage them.